In bed I could feel the pain in my back diffusing into the mattress. I touched my neck, my shoulder, my biceps. I could feel where my body had changed. I clicked on my cell phone: 4:47 a.m. The black air wouldn’t move, it wouldn’t shift in or out the window. The heat was an adhesive—even the fan couldn’t disrupt it.
I went to the bathroom and saw my shirtless roommate passed out on the couch. His chest was slick with sweat and he was snoring. He had an air conditioner blasting away in his room. Some people were morons.
The bathroom was a narrow room of tiny brown tiles, brown grout and brown, moldy ceiling corners. I turned the shower on to cold and stepped in and out of it, gasping and sighing, until my skin was stiff. I put my towel on top of my sheets and lay down sopping wet. The heat landed again like tiny gnats on my skin.
I touched my abdomen, my thighs. I was getting stronger. I touched myself and I felt like stone. I saw Jake in the locker room dropping his pants, his tattered boxers, his pale legs. I thought about the sweat on his arms, of how violently he shook the cocktail shaker, of the sweat adhering his white T-shirt to him the day I first saw him. And when I tried to picture his face it was blank. It had no features except eyes. It didn’t matter. I came abruptly and gratefully.
My body shone in the distressed streetlight. I was used to being alone. But I’d never been aware of so many other people, also alone. I knew that all over the south side of Williamsburg people were staring at their ceilings, praying for a breeze to come and cure them, and like that I lost myself. I evaporated.
You burned yourself. You burned yourself by participating.
On the wineglasses that came out in gushes of steam, on the espresso machine’s milk-scum-covered steamer wand, on the leaky hot-water faucet of the bar sink, on the china plates searing themselves in the heat lamps at the pass.
On the webbings of hands, on your fingertips, on your wrists, your inner elbows, strangely right above your outer elbow. You were restocking printer tape and had to move behind Chef, but caught your skin on the handle of a copper saucepan. You yelled, it spun and fell to the floor. Chef sent you out of the kitchen and you reset tables for the rest of lunch.
The burns healed and your skin was boiled.
Knicks in your knuckles from tearing the foil unprofessionally from wine bottles.
Scott said, “The skin gets so tough, even a knife won’t scratch it.” He grabbed a plate out of the salamander with his hands to really illustrate the point.
Stephanie Danler, Sweetbitter, 2016.